The Henry Ford picks up 1964 World's Fair exhibit, "Mathematica"

Apr 8, 2015

In the pantheon of great American designers, the name Eames is one of the best-known. Charles Eames and his wife Ray made their creative mark in modern architecture, furniture, graphic design, industrial design, fine art, textile design and film.

A Mathematica exhibit by Charles and Ray Eames at the Museum of Science in Boston.

The Henry Ford Museum has acquired a permanent Eames exhibition, called “Mathematica.” It was first seen over 50 years ago, at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City.

Senior Director of Historical Resources at The Henry Ford, Marc Greuther, says the roots of this exhibit lie in its relationship with the International Business Machines Corporation. 

“IBM was interested in essentially having an educated customer base,” Greuther said. “It was better for them to be doing business in a climate of an educated populace.”

While many different exhibits have included and are including similar educational components, the scale and range of perspective involved in Mathematica is bigger.

“I think what’s different about Mathematica – what was certainly different then and in many ways remains so now – was the degree to which that interactivity was really aligned with the message, with the underlying content of the exhibit,” Greuther says. “It wasn’t just a question of doing something. It was a question of providing an activity that drew the visitor, the guest into it.”

Greuther says Mathematica deals with things, phenomena, and experience, rather than with numbers.

“Charles was very fond of suggesting, for instance, if mathematics is a mile long, what you learn in school is about an inch of that,” he said. “Or, you know, if you think mathematics is about numbers, you’re right. It’s just about one percent of mathematics.”

Though the Mathematica exhibit is, of course, about math, it also encompasses more, Greuther said. The exhibit deals with the ability designers have to solve tangible, real-world problems, for example.

Of the design of the exhibit, Greuther said, “It glows. It glows really brightly.”